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U.N. Demands More Commitment to Humanitarian Aid

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS) - Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations early this week, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, delivered the Distinguished Sorensen Lecture on the U.N.’s role in global humanitarian crises.

“For the first time ever, the total number of displaced people and refugees across the world has topped 50 million people, for the first time since about 1945; I shouldn’t say for the first time ever. These are huge and significant numbers,” declared Amos.

The United Nations humanitarian affairs chief pointed out the Sorensen lecture comes at a particularly critical time: “This week alone, horrific events in France and Nigeria have led, for example, to searching questions about the nature of terrorism, security, freedom of speech and religion; the limits or otherwise of press freedom, tolerance, racism, inequality, the impact of social media and the Internet, the lack of connectivity between people and cultures, and the quality of global leadership.”

Amos underlined the fact that humanitarian work is under significant pressure. In 2015, more than 78 million people in 22 countries require urgent humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations estimates that it will cost $16.4 billion to provide urgently needed shelter, essential health care, education and food.

Amos, who will step down in March after more than four years, stated the conflict in Syria has been her low point. While over 3.2 million have fled the conflict that has killed some 200,000 people, more than 12 million people in Syria need help.

“We are feeding millions of people, we are getting healthcare to millions of people, but I still feel that we have failed because we have watched a country descend into war and conflict and we have not been able to stop it,” said Amos.

Amos also said that Ebola is probably the most complex coordination challenge that the international community has ever had to face: “This is not just a health crisis, this is a major economic crisis for the countries of West Africa, it is a major social crisis for those countries as well with some big questions and challenges around how communities traditionally operate.”

Humanitarian actors are increasingly being called on to deal with the consequences of crises that essentially have their roots in a complex set of interrelated factors: poor governance, political paralysis, underdevelopment, rising levels of poverty and inequality.

“Too often, humanitarian organisations are called on to fill the glaring gaps that emerge when States neglect to fulfil their duty to safeguard their citizens. Think for example Syria or South Sudan. Or where, as a result of conflict, the state apparatus has become weak, fragmented or almost nonexistent as in the case of Somalia or the Central African Republic,” stated Amos.

But working in conflict zones, where international humanitarian law is violated, is becoming more dangerous. In 2013, violence against humanitarian aid operations hit an all-time high with 251 separate attacks in which 155 aid workers were killed and 134 were kidnapped.

“We need a stronger, and dare I say it, perhaps a more interventionist global architecture to deal with the humanitarian consequences of conflict. I recognise this would come with major risks – given global power dynamics and other differences around the world,” said Amos.

According to Amos the main problem is the lack of implementation of international humanitarian law. She stressed the need for stronger commitment from governments and multilateral institutions as well as from humanitarian agencies.
“It is no longer acceptable that still less than half of one percent of all international aid is spent on disaster prevention and preparedness.”

Reshaping the United Nations’ approaches to humanitarian aid is going to be a priority for the consultations leading up to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, the first ever such Summit which has been called for by the UN Secretary-General.

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